A day on the Danube

Vienna and points northwest, Austria We were so lucky with the weather today, our day to take a cruise on the Danube.

We started with a train ride to Melk, best known as the site of Melk Abbey, a massive baroque Benedictine monastery, which towers over the town. The site held a castle until it was given to the monks in 1089. As one can see, they made the most of the location.

On our last visit five years ago, we toured the Abbey on a freezing cold day. (Details and photos from that visit are available if you search “Melk” at the bottom of the page. You may have to click on the feature picture to get the whole story.) But we didn’t feel the need to go again, so we spent our time in Melk having lunch and just walking around this very charming town, all the while with the Abbey looming over us.

Next we boarded a ship for our cruise through the Wachau section of the Danube, considered the river’s most beautiful.

It was certainly a peaceful and scenic voyage. We passed many small villages, each with their own church, and some with their own castle ruins. This is a grape-growing area, and tiered vineyards climb many of the hillsides.

This is also a very popular bicycle route, and many make the same trip we were on by bike, alongside the river.

We went by the town of Willendorf, which was hard to capture quickly. But it rings quite a bell as the home of the prehistoric statue Venus of Willendorf, whom we hope to visit in a Vienna museum this week.

A real highlight was the town of Dürnstein, a 16th-century jewel. Two items of note: The Richard the Lionheart Castle, which earned its named by housing Richard in 1192, captured by Leopold V, on his way back from the Crusades; and the Stiftskirche, Austria’s most beautiful baroque church, dating from the early 1700’s. The castle is now just ruins but the church is still glorious.

Don’s Food Corner

Mark your calendars. April 30, 2022 is a momentous date. It was the date Jo declared she had hit her schnitzel limit. I felt something like a tremor from heaven. But that is what she says.

Today was a test. Schnitzel was, of course, on the menu. It’s on every menu in Austria, except (and I was surprised that it wasn’t) on the menu at the Chinese restaurant we went to last week.

Fearing she might have made a mistake that she would later regret, I ordered the schnitzel for myself. We were seated in at a lovely outdoor café on a lovely square in lovely Melk in the midst of lovely weather. I thought she might weaken. But, no, she ordered pork Cordon Bleu, which is prepared, here at least, in the same way as schnitzel except that it was stuffed with ham and cheese. And we’re talking a lot of ham and cheese.

Jo’s Cordon Bleu came with French fries. My schnitzel, actually a pork schnitzel, making it even closer to Jo’s Cordon Bleu, came with the obligatory potato salad as well as some nice pickled cucumbers, cabbage and a little bit of greens. It was better than the usual, but after Jo forced herself to taste it, graded it as A-. You can’t get a full A unless it’s veal. But the pork, in both the schnitzel and Cordon Bleu, was tender and juicy.

I remarked to the waiter that Austrians sure knew how to make schnitzel. He agreed without hesitation.

Tomorrow will be the real test. We plan to go to Demel for lunch. Demel is Vienna’s famed café that has been serving up incredible pastries and superb versions of classic Viennese dishes for decades. This is the magical place that launched a thousand schnitzels after we visited there five years ago. It’s been five years of constant schnitzel since then. I think Jo might relent on her vow of no more schnitzel just to see if the Demel standard has been upheld. Stay tuned.

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